Jos_2:8-14. And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof: and she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token: and that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the Lord hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.
GOD is pleased to accomplish his promises by the use of means: to neglect the means therefore is to tempt him, rather than to trust in him; and to expect the end without using the means is not faith, but presumption. Hence the strongest believers have always accounted it their duty to exert themselves as much as if success depended solely on their exertions; whilst, on the other hand, they placed their hopes in God, as much as if no effort whatever were used by themselves. Joshua had no doubt respecting his ultimate success in conquering and possessing the land of Canaan: yet, as every prudent General endeavours to obtain information respecting the state of any fortified city which he is about to besiege, before he proceeds actually to invest it, so Joshua felt it his duty to send spies to ascertain the state of Jericho, before he passed over Jordan to attack it. To the spies themselves the undertaking was perilous in the extreme: yet they went forth in humble reliance on their God, and were almost miraculously preserved from falling into the hands of their enemies. The manner of their preservation is here circumstantially related: it was effected solely by the good offices of a woman who lived in the city, and to whom they were providentially directed. Her name was Rahab; and she is constantly in the Scriptures called an harlot; but whether she was at that time an harlot, or was a reformed character, we know not: but this is plain, that her mind was wonderfully overruled by God to screen and protect them. The interposition of God in this matter seems to have been not unlike to that which fifteen hundred years afterwards led to the conversion of Cornelius. Cornelius was instructed in a vision to send for Peter, and was directed where to find him: and at the same time Peter was instructed in a vision to go to him, notwithstanding he was a Gentile. Thus the minds of the spies were directed to the only person in the city that would have afforded them an asylum; and her mind was directed to prefer their safety before every other consideration whatever. The conduct of Rahab on this occasion is repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament, and that too in terms peculiarly honourable to her. We shall find it therefore not unprofitable to consider,
The service she rendered—
In speaking upon this part of our subject, we shall notice separately,
What she did—
[From the first interview which she had with the spies, she knew the true object of their mission; and determined to advance it to the utmost of her power. Her first object therefore was to prevent any discovery: and for this purpose she conducted them to the roof of her house, and there covered them with stalks of flax. As she had foreseen, they were traced to her house, and messengers from the king were sent to apprehend them. She acknowledged that they had been there, but said that they were gone away but a little before, and, if pursued immediately, would certainly be taken. Thus she avoided all suspicion of favouring them, and prevented all further inquiries about them at her house. Having succeeded thus far, she went up to them, and asked of them an assurance, that they, in return for this kindness, would spare her and all her family, when they should take the city. To this they bound themselves and all Israel by a solemn oath; stipulating, however, that the matter should be kept a profound secret; that her family should all be collected under her roof; and that a scarlet line, by which she let them down from her window, should be bound in the window, to prevent any mistake. The instructions which she gave them for the avoiding of their pursuers, were such as prudence directed: these they followed implicitly; and after hiding themselves three days in a neighbouring mountain, they returned across the fords to their own camp in safety. Thus did she effectually preserve the spies that Joshua had sent.]
From what principle she acted—
[It certainly appears strange, that she should so betray her king and country; and stranger still, that she should be commended by God himself for this conduct; more especially when we find, that she uttered various falsehoods for the attainment of her end. Let us then investigate this point.
The principle from which she acted, was faith. Of this we are assured on the authority of an inspired Apostle; “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace [Note: Heb_11:31.].” The same is manifest in the account before us. She believed that the God of Israel was the only true God. She believed that God was the great Disposer of all events: that he had given the land of Canaan to his people Israel: that he had miraculously opened a way for them through the Red Sea, at their first coming out of Egypt: that he had enabled them to destroy Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites, and to take possession of their land: and that he would infallibly accomplish his promises to them, in the total subjugation of the Canaanites. All this is evident from the very words of our text. Now, if we consider how contracted were the views even of the pious Israelites at that time, this faith, strong and assured as it was, was truly wonderful: it might justly be said of her, as of another Canaanitish woman, “O woman, great is thy faith! I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
But here arises a question of considerable difficulty: How can we reconcile the falsehoods which she uttered with the professions which she made, and with the commendations given her in the Scriptures? To solve this difficulty, commentators have had recourse to various expedients; some extenuating, some justifying, and some altogether condemning her conduct. But we apprehend that the true solution must be found in the strength and assurance of her faith: she herself said, not, “I fear,” or, “I believe,” but, “I know that the Lord hath given you the land.” She was fully assured that it was in vain to fight against God: that, if these two spies were put to death, it would make no difference whatever as to the issue of the contest: that the whole city and all its inhabitants would infallibly be destroyed: and that the only possible way of securing herself and family would be to submit to the God of Israel, and to unite themselves to his people. To what purpose then would it be to deliver up the spies? it would not save one single life: it would only be to continue fighting against God, and to bring on herself and all her family that destruction which it was now in her power to avert. By concealing the spies she, in fact, could injure nobody; but by giving them up, she would sacrifice, both for herself and family, all hopes of life either in this world or the world to come. At the same time that this view of the matter gives the easiest solution to the difficulty, it serves to explain the commendation given to her by the Apostle James: “Was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way [Note: Jam_2:25.]?” Yes; she did by this act evince the reality and strength of her faith, and prove, that she had determined to cast herself entirely, both for time and for eternity, upon the mercy of the God of Israel.
If it is asked, whether faith in God will produce, or even countenance, falsehood; we answer, No: but that question does not fairly belong to the subject: let it be asked, whether Elisha was justified in deceiving the Syrian army, and leading them from Dothan, whither they had come to destroy him, to Samaria, where they were brought into the power of the king of Israel [Note: 2Ki_6:13-19.]? Or, if the cases be thought not sufficiently parallel, let any one ask, whether, if a maniac were coming to destroy his whole family, he should not think himself justified in denying them to him, when no evil could accrue to the maniac himself by means of it, and the preservation of so many lives depended on it? Yet even this case, strong as it would be, would fall very far short of Rahab’s, whose eternal, no less than temporal, interests depended on her forwarding the purposes of Heaven. But, whether we justify or condemn her conduct, it can afford no precedent to us: for, before we can plead her example in justification of treachery or falsehood, we must be circumstanced like her, which it is nearly impossible we should ever be.]
Such was the service which she rendered to the Lord. Let us now consider,
The reward she obtained—
This was greater far than ever she herself could have conceived—
She and all her family were preserved—
[In a few days, Joshua and all his army appeared before the city; and, by God’s special interposition, took it. The sign before agreed upon had been attended to by Rahab, and the two very persons with whom the agreement had been made were sent to secure the execution of it. They went to the house, brought out Rahab and all her family, and placed them in safety near the camp of Israel: then the order was given to burn the whole city, and to destroy every one of its inhabitants without exception. The fulfilment of the covenant which the spies had entered into is particularly noticed at the taking of Jericho; and Rahab herself long continued in Israel a monument of the mercy of God and of the fidelity of his people [Note: Jos_6:22-25.].
This alone was an exceeding great reward: to be so distinguished herself; and, after all the distress which her former wickedness had occasioned to her family, to be made an instrument of saving all their lives, surely this was an inestimable benefit, and assimilated her to the angels which rescued Lot and his family from the flames of Sodom.]
She is enrolled amongst the number of God’s most eminent saints—
[We have already had occasion to refer to the testimony of two Apostles in her behalf. The very scope of one was to illustrate the transcendent excellence of faith, and of the other to shew its operative and transforming power: by both of them is she united with the patriarch Abraham himself: and by one she is said to be justified by this work of hers, as Abraham was justified by offering up his son Isaac on the altar. The boon she desired was, temporal life; and behold, here was given to her spiritual and eternal life. How loudly did this proclaim to Israel the determination of God to incorporate with them in due time the Gentile world! And how strongly does it declare to us, that “where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound!” Methinks, as Paul says of himself, that “for this cause he obtained mercy, that in him the chief of sinners God might shew forth all long-suffering for a pattern to them that shall hereafter believe on him to life everlasting,” so we may say of this woman. O that all the harlots in the world could hear of the mercy shewed to this notorious prostitute! Despised as they are and abandoned by their fellow-creatures, O that they knew what compassion for them exists in the bosom of their God! They usually persist in their wickedness, through an utter despair of obtaining the mercy and grace which they stand in need of: but here they might see, that the vilest of sinners may become the most eminent of saints. Our Lord indeed tells us, that publicans and harlots are often more willing to seek for mercy than proud self-complacent moralists [Note: Mat_21:31.]: O that the instance before us might lead many to repentance, and that, like another of whom we read, “having had much forgiven, they may love much!”]
She was made an ancestor of the Messiah himself—
[Mysterious truth! A Gentile, belonging to an accursed nation, and to a place peculiarly obnoxious to the wrath of God: and she too, an harlot of peculiar notoriety; to be chosen of God, not only to become an eminent saint, but an instrument of continuing the line of his elect, and ultimately of bringing into the world his only-begotten Son [Note: Mat_1:5.]! What shall we say to this? The truth of it cannot be doubted; for she is expressly mentioned in the genealogy of Christ [Note: If Salmon, who married her, was, as is by no means improbable, one of the two spies, what beautiful considerations would arise out of that circumstance! But, where there is so much known, it is not desirable, unnecessarily, to introduce conjecture.]. How infinitely did this honour surpass all that she could ever have imagined! What a reward was here for protecting the spies! But verily we never can entertain too exalted thoughts of God’s love and mercy: the riches of his grace are altogether unsearchable, and the extent of his love, incomprehensible.
This however we may learn from it, that God will abundantly recompense whatever we do for him ———“ Even a cup of cold water given for his sake, shall in no wise lose its reward.” Let us then enlarge our expectations from him, and open our mouths wide, that he may fill them. Let us not be afraid to incur risks for him; but let us serve him at all events, accounting nothing of any value in comparison of his favour, nothing desirable but an inheritance with his people — — — [Note: The brief practical hints contained under these three subdivisions, might be omitted, and added separately as three inferences from the subject. Thus — Infer, 1. There is no person so vile, but he may become an eminent saint—2. Faith, if true, will uniformly produce good works—3. Whatever we do for God shall most assuredly be richly rewarded. This plan would contract the second head; but it would admit of these important thoughts being more expanded and enforced.]]